24 June 2018

Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian 13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle
The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian
13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle.
An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.

Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.

King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.

The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.

The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.

The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia. The Austrians led by Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg marched west from Verona to the north of the Italian position, so as to cut them off from the rear.

But on June 24, La Marmora changed the direction of his front and ended up colliding head on with the Austrians.

When the Austrians reacted by attacking them, the Italians panicked and took up a defensive position. By the middle of the day La Marmora had ordered a retreat, little realising that by then another Italian division had captured Belvedere Hill, overlooking Custoza. The troops on the hill found themselves isolated and after a bombardment by Austrian guns were driven out of Custoza.

However, for a number of reasons the Austrian did not pursue the Italians, squandering the chance to destroy their army. Only a month later the Austrians were forced to surrender to the Prussians and give up Venetia.

Scenes from the Italian side of the Battle of Custoza were recreated in the 1954 Luchino Visconti film, Senso.

The Ossario di Custoza
The Ossario di Custoza
Travel tip:

Custoza is a village in the province of Verona in the Veneto. In memory of the two famous battles fought there during the wars for Italian independence, a memorial building, the Ossuary of Custoza - Ossario di Custoza - was built on the Belvedere Hill in 1879. Today, June 24, a ceremony will be held there to remember the soldiers who died on this day in the Battle of Custoza. For more information about the memorial, visit www.ossariodicustoza.com.

The village of Custoza in the Veneto
The village of Custoza in the Veneto
Travel tip:

Custoza is also famous for producing the prestigious white wine, Bianco di Custoza, which is sometimes referred to as the white equivalent of the red wine, Bardolino, produced nearby in the town of Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. Bianco di Custoza is dry and smooth with flowery and fruity notes, with hints of apples, lemon peel and peaches that linger on the tongue. The wine is best drunk within a year of the grape harvest.


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